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The Olympic women’s road race played out in a way that no one could have scripted Sunday.
Anna Kiesenhofer pushed from kilometer zero and didn’t stop until she’d dropped all her breakaway companions. Behind her, the all-powerful Dutch squad miscalculated the chase as communications broke down.
Annemiek van Vleuten attacked late to blitz to what she thought was a gold medal only to learn that Kiesenhofer had already grabbed gold with her defiant 41-kilometer solo move.
Here’s what the stars said after a dramatic day of racing:
Anna Kiesenhofer (Austria): Gold
Anna Kiesenhofer started the race Sunday without a pro contract and without teammates. She came out of it with only the second gold-ever Olympic medal for Austria’s cyclists, the first since 1896.
Kiesenhofer was the first rider to attack and form the day’s breakaway and kicked clear from the remaining escapees at 41km to go, plummeting off the Kagosaka Pass and time trialing her way to a huge surprise victory.
She crossed the line and collapsed in tears at a result no one would have imagined.
“It feels incredible. I couldn’t believe it. Even when I crossed the line, it was like, ‘Is it done now? Do I have to continue riding?’ Incredible.”
“I planned to attack at kilometer zero and I was happy I could get in front. That is something I could not take for granted because I am not good at riding in the peloton. I am happy that I was not too scared and I just went for it. I attacked and with the group we worked more or less together – it was helpful to have a group.
“I saw I was the strongest and I knew I had the climb before the long descent. I’m pretty good at descending so I got some more time and then it was just like a time trial to the finish.”
On the final kilometers: “I was just trying to get to the line. My legs were completely empty. I have never emptied myself so much in my whole life. I could hardly pedal anymore. It felt like there was zero energy in my legs.”
On what it means to her and her family: “It’s just so incredible. I have really sacrificed so much for today. I wasn’t expecting to finish it off like that. I sacrificed everything even for a top-15 place and now to get this, for the sacrifices, it’s just such a reward, it’s incredible.”
Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands): Silver
— TeamNL🇳🇱 #StandWithUkraine 🇺🇦 (@TeamNLtweets) July 25, 2021
Annemiek van Vleuten celebrated what she thought was a gold medal when she crossed the line in second place Sunday.
Van Vleuten’s jubilation soon turned to dejection when she realized that gold had already gone.
A breakdown in communications had seen the Dutch team unaware that Kiesenhofer was still at the front of the race. When van Vleuten & co. caught breakaway riders Omer Shapira and Anna Plitcha, they thought the race was theirs for the taking. A silver medal made for a bittersweet consolation.
“When I crossed the line, I thought I had won. With five kilometers to go Marianne (Vos) came up to me, none of us knew if everyone was caught back. Apparently, the phone line with Loes (Gunnewijk, Netherlands coach) was very bad.
“This is an example (of what happens) if you ride an important race like this without communication. All WorldTour races have communication, and now we’re standing here and wondering who has actually won. I’m gutted about it, of course.”
On her emotions after she found out that she came second: “I’m really proud of the medal because I did not have an Olympic medal. It’s also a silver medal with a shine on it, because I felt super good today. My goal was to be at my best-ever level here, and I think I nailed that. It’s not the result we were hoping for, but for me personally, I think I did a really good race.”
Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy): Bronze
E D È B R O N Z O 🥉
— F.C.I. (@Federciclismo) July 25, 2021
Elisa Longo Borghini rounded out the podium to take her second Olympic bronze medal.
Longo Borghini sat in the Dutch team’s wheels as they pulled back all of the breakaway bar Kiesenhofer. The Italian was first to respond to van Vleuten’s late move, kicking away from the star-studded lead group and fending off a strong chase by Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) to finish in third.
“I had no plan, I just went with my feelings. I felt in the gap it was the right moment to go and I went and didn’t look back anymore.
“I thought that the Dutch had everything in their hands but in the end sometimes when you play tactics too much and you think you are the strongest, you lose the race. As the national team, we are really humble and we knew that we really had to suffer to get a medal, and so we did.”
Coryn Rivera (USA): Seventh
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— USA Cycling (@usacycling) July 25, 2021
Coryn Rivera hung tough through a series of attacks in the mountainous mid-section of the race, waiting in the hopes of a fast finish.
Rivera profited from some stellar support from teammates Leah Thomas, Ruth Winder, and Chloé Dygert, who traded attacking in a bid to soften the group by sitting back to guard their captain’s wheels.
Kiesenhofer’s blazing escape meant that a sprint for the medals never came, but Rivera countered a series of attacks through the final to finish seventh, top finisher for the U.S team.
“Obviously, not what I want, but I’ve worked hard for it. I cramped, so I gave it my all. I think the girls did an outstanding job today. We did the best that we could. We tried. And I think we did our best today. I’m pretty happy with it for my first Olympics as well. After everything, I can be pretty satisfied.”
Anna van der Breggen, defending champion (Netherlands): 15th
“The Dutch team must make the Olympic race tough" 🗣️ – @AnnavdBreggen
— Team SD Worx (@teamsdworx) July 24, 2021
Defending champion Anna van der Breggen shared the agony of teammate van Vleuten when the Dutch team’s day came undone.
Van der Breggen led the late chase as the Dutchwomen looked to set up van Vleuten, ignorant of Kiesenhofer’s position on the road. Van der Breggen was frustrated by how the mistake was made but also suggested that her team shouldn’t have left the pursuit so late.
“We did not know that there was still someone up front, so we actually did a good job, but in the end, we don’t win and that’s a pity. If we would have known (the full situation) we would have made pace longer.
“The only information we had was from the car or from a motorcycle, which passed by every 10 minutes or so. I was told that Anna Plitcha was up front, so when I caught up with her, I thought we were in the lead.
“The worst part about it is that it’s because of the (lack of) information. Of course, it’s also up to us, maybe we should have asked more. We would have done everything to close it up. She was up front the whole day, so if we would have gone full gas, we would have come close. You never know if we would have made it.”